Originally created 08/29/98

Diplomats see outside Atlanta



NEWNAN, Ga. -- Assembly lines where workers build 120 Yamaha Wave Runners a day may not be the usual place for diplomats to congregate, but 28 of them from 16 countries strolled through the Newnan plant Friday as part of a state-sponsored orientation tour.

Since 1986, the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism has invited the roughly 60 consuls, trade representatives and bankers from countries that maintain offices in Atlanta to take a three-day bus tour of some part of the state.

While few of the trips have directly resulted in foreign factories landing in rural towns, the annual excursions have fostered trade and tourism by expanding understanding, according to many participants.

Sixteen countries were represented in this year's tour which wrapped up at the Newnan Yamaha plant after stops in Columbus, Hamilton, LaGrange, Pine Mountain and Warm Springs.

"I've been on six of these tours, and each offers a different perspective of Georgia. I think it is good for the consulate corps so they can get outside of Atlanta," said Michael Sawicki, vice president of KBC Bank of Belgium, who has been based in Georgia since 1983.

Others, like Korea Trade Center Director General Soon-Hyung Kwon, who has only been in Georgia for four months, agreed.

"I find there is a lot of industry outside of Atlanta and a lot of possibilities for trade," he said. "Learning about what's outside of Atlanta, that is the biggest part."

The tours were begun by George Berry when he was Georgia's commissioner of trade. Other neighboring states offer similar tours, and Mr. Berry figured Georgia should exploit having so many foreign officials in its backyard.

"The tours have been very effective" because diplomats come to represent Georgia to their home countries as much as they represent their countries to the state, said Randy Cardoza, Mr. Berry's successor as commissioner of industry, trade and tourism. "The biggest thing they have learned is there is more to Georgia than what's inside (Interstate) 285."

At each stop, local politicians and industry recruiters greeted the diplomats in hopes a favorable impression might somehow lead to attracting a large plant that would employ many of their citizens and pay lots of property taxes.

Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, greeted the visitors in French, but the former Jesup teacher and chamber of commerce executive is realistic about how much impact one stop on the tour can have.

Most international companies dictate to the state and their own diplomats what type of community they want to build a plant in, she said, rather than the other way around.

Still, she says, "You know you can't buy this kind of impression. America is always in the business of promoting itself."

Last year's tour centered on the Augusta region. Next year will probably include the coast, Mr. Cardoza said. They all feature tourists sites as well as power plants and factories.

"We have had the opportunity to see landmarks of history," said Klaus Zehentner, consul general of Germany and senior diplomat in Atlanta. "We have seen activities of today, and we have gotten an idea of what the future will be, and it is promising."